Stop Saying This!

How to stop using the phrase that is damaging your relationships and destroying your self-esteem.



This phrase is one that holds you back. This phrase not only makes you appear to be less competent, but this phrase actually can make you feel less competent. This phrase takes away your power, your energy and your potential. This phrase hurts you and the people around you.


This phrase gives you an excuse, a cop out. You don't have to take risks, you don't have to take responsibility. You don't have to cause any tension, you don't have to stand up for yourself. You don't have to be singled out, you don't have to change, you don't have to feel uncomfortable, you don't have to talk, and in some cases you don't have to listen. 


With this phrase you can be passive, you can stay quiet, you can stay invisible.



What is this phrase?

Not that I don't know what the phrase is, but that the phrase we use that is causing so much distress, is the phrase, “I don’t know.” 



Here’s the deal, it is okay to not know, and to admit that you don't know, but it can become detrimental if we leave it at that. 


Instead of saying ‘I don't know’ and leaving it there, you can say, “I’m not sure, but here’s what I think”


To me, being a counselor, someone who’s job revolves around communicating and helping others mostly by talking with them, one the most difficult phrases for me to hear is:


“I don't know.” 



My follow up question is always, “well what do you think” or “take a guess” Oh my, what a response this can provoke. If we can all just say what we think or take a guess of what we think the answer could be, we would be so much more confident it what we do, what we say, and how we say it . 


Don’t straight up lie, and don't pretend that you know EVERYTHING, but don't sit back and let others answer for you! 



Admit that you aren't sure of the true answer, but be confident that you have a lot to give and a lot of knowledge within you that needs to be shared. 


What you have to offer is your experience and that may help someone else to have a better, or maybe just, a different perspective on life. 



Why is there such a breakdown in saying thoughts aloud?


It’s all in the phrasing - If you were to understand the way to phrase your thoughts before speaking them, you will feel more confident with your answers. 


Setting can make a huge difference in how we communicate and express ourselves. 


At work…


This setting can bring about another level of feeling, incompetent… impostor syndrome, which is doubting your own abilities and feeling like you are an impostor. Feeling like you don’t really know what you are doing or that you aren’t doing your best work…even though, you were hired to do that job, and that you have the training and qualifications to do the work. 


This is especially prevalent for those starting out in a new career, maybe fresh out of college. 

Feeling as if you need to prove yourself and that you know what you are doing. Making confident decisions is one way to do this. Saying, “I don't know” and leaving it at that when people are coming to you as the expert, is only going to hold you back. 


Think about this setting:


A job interview:


When going for job interviews I would hope that when the interviewer asks you a question you wouldn't respond with….. ‘I don’t know.’ 

This is a situation where you would exude confidence in order to impress and hopefully score a job! 


So why is it that we are so quick to jump to this phrase in everyday situations. 


Sometimes we don't want to think, we are tired, we are uninterested, and we don’t want to spend energy trying to figure out something that we couldn't care less about. 


Sometimes we don’t want to appear to be know-it-alls, we don’t want to make others feel less competent, we don’t what people to feel like we are one-uppers or like we have an answer for everything….. we don’t want to be ‘that guy’ (or gal) because they are annoying. 


How do we balance the idea that we aren’t obnoxious, overly confident, know-it-alls but that we aren’t incompetent or aloof either? 




We have been seeing a lot about this mindfulness and mindset business, about changing your perspective and thinking and feeling and being more intentional in our daily lives. Changing your thoughts to change your mind. Then the affects spill over to your feelings and your actions. 


The one notion of this shift in mindset that stands out the most is the idea of ‘yet.’ Yet gives us hope, yet keeps the door open when it otherwise might feel like it’s shut. 



When it comes to things that we want or things that we cannot do, it is easy to keep ourselves stuck, get discouraged, and give up. 


When we open ourselves up to the idea of yet, we have so much more to offer. 


Absolute thinking and speaking can make a difference in the way that we feel and the things that we do. These types of phrases are very closed. There is not a lot that can come from this type of thinking or speaking. It’s absolute. It’s done. The end. 


I can't figure it out. 

I don’t have that kind of money. 

I am not able to do that. 



Just by adding the word ‘yet’ to the end of these phrases, opens it up for you. It isn't the end, there is more to come, and you can continue to get what you want. 


I can't figure it out….yet 

I don’t have that kind of money…..yet 

I am not able to do that……yet


It takes our thoughts, feelings, and actions down a completely different path, a path of hope, encouragement, and positivity that will lead us to feeling successful as opposed to feeling defeated. 


When it comes to eliminating the phrase, ‘I don’t know’ from your language, maybe we don’t need to eliminate it completely, but we can add to it. 


Similar to the yet statement, we are going to create a but statement. 

Usually when people drop a ‘but’ it is like waiting for the other shoe to drop. 


“We love you, but, we are cutting you off.”


“You are a hard-worker, but, we’ve gotta let you go” 


Harsh right… 


When we drop the ‘but’ statement we are going about it in a different way. 


In order for our mindset to shift in a positive and hopeful way, we have got to add a ‘but’ statement to the end of the phrase “I don’t know.” 


I feel like I am saying but a lot! 


Not only will adding this little word keep you feeling confident and sure of yourself, it will also keep you engaged in communication and ultimately fostering your relationships with others. 





Kid: Mom what’s for dinner? 

Mom: I don’t know.


End of conversation



What does this conversation do? 


It does a lot actually. 


Kid is making an attempt at communicating with mom. Kid asks a question, whether or not kid is actually hungry and seriously concerned with what is for dinner, kid is trying to open up and make a connection of some sort, with mom. 


Mom’s response does a few things as well. Mom stating that she doesn't know what’s for dinner, closes the connection. She doesn't give kid an answer and doesn't leave room for any further communication. Kid may feel shut out and may feel discouraged from making another attempt at connection. 


Add a ‘but’ statement


Kid: Mom what’s for dinner?

Mom: I don’t know….but maybe you could help me decide. 


Here, mom still doesn't know what the answer is, but this way the connection is made, the kid feels heard, and further communication is encouraged.



Even without knowing the relationship between Kid and Mom, you can still tell the difference in the way they communicate and the connections that are made and nurtured, just by the shift in the phrasing. 



When your mindset and phrasing can shift, you will feel a difference in your own confidence and in the way you feel about yourself and others. The people around you will feel more engaged and more important because of they way you interact with them. 


Phrasing and mindset shifts aren’t things that you need to do for others, but things that you need to do for yourself. When you can set yourself up for success, the people around you will feel it in the way you treat them.


When you can start the shift within, you will see a complete difference in your relationships, but you have to start with your relationship with you.



So I challenge you. 


Start small. Change the way you think your thoughts and the way you phrase your words.


Start with “I don’t know” 


Keep track of how often you say it. 

Ask others to call you out when you say it. 

This helps you to notice the impact that these words have on you. 


Then just rephrase:


I don’t know, but I think…..


I don’t know……yet 


I don’t know, but it could be…..


I don’t know, but let’s find out 


I don’t know, but maybe it has something to do with…. 




You might not know how to change your mindset now, and that is only because you haven’t figured it out……. yet. 




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